By now most South African gamers should know who Boardgames.co.za (BGSA) are. At the very least they will have seen or played games distributed by them. They are the people who distribute Settlers of Catan, among many other games, in SA.
I was lucky enough to chat with one of the staff at Hobby-x 2015 and she happened to be the PR face of BGSA. One thing led to another and I had a very interesting conversation with the team behind one of SA’s largest table top game distributors.
First things first, just who is BGSA?
Fabio & Christa Salvador were gracious enough to spare me some time, late on a Monday evening. The reason for a late interview, the kids needed to be put to bed first.
BGSA is a family business with the husband and wife team forming the head office in Cape Town. Fabio is the “Chief kid” and Christa is the “Sales and Marketing kid”. Their Aunt Barbara joined the team in 2005 and is the “Operations kid” based in Johannesburg.
BGSA is a family and is all about bringing family and friends closer together.
Where did it begin?
The story of how it all started, in 2003, is actually very touching. Christa was involved in a serious kite surfing accident. She suffered severe head trauma and fell into a coma. The initial prognosis was far from good.
The story of what happened and her journey to recovery can be found here. What’s missing from the journal is the role of board games in her recovery. Not just for her to re-develop her motor skills, but also to help the family as a whole. Help them to pass time and bond. Gaming also provided something to do to alleviate their worry.
I’m sure Chrissie appreciated the escape from boredom during her time in rehab too 😉
With games occupying some much of their time that it became a hobby of theirs, they could not help but notice how difficult it was to get the good stuff into SA.
So they decided to do it themselves and officially launched their website in 2004. Fabio says that they were about 6 years too early for the SA market and actually considered closing their doors at one point!
I for one am glad that they didn’t.
They still kite surf with a passion.
What made you guys keep going?
The big break came when Exclusive Books signed up. BGSA pitched games to the executive staff, essentially a games day with the big wigs playing Settlers of Catan. They enjoyed it so much that they agreed to a pilot in 6-10 stores.
That was a huge success and BGSA made the jump from supplier/online retailer to full-fledged distributor. They continue to sell online but that accounts for between 2-5% of monthly sales. With an average of 3 new stores signing up every week gaming is growing in SA at great rate.
So where did Ontdekkers van Catan come from?
At a game trade show in Germany BGSA met with the foreign language publisher of Settlers of Catan, Kosmos. The rights for the English language version are held by Mayfair games; so the original idea of a dual language version had to be amended to Afrikaans only. Hopefully it is just the first local language.
The meeting ended with a sizeable investment from BGSA, in the tune of 5 zeros. Out of that Ontdekkers van Catan was born. Sale of Ontdekkers in the first year alone was greater than the combined sales of the English version for the previous 4 years!
Catan is actually becoming a household name in SA.
Earlier in the year I saw a Facebook post from BGSA offering assistance to retailers to grow the hobby, how does that work?
Some retailers know their games, for others like Exclusive Books; it’s not a core product. To help these retailers assist their customers better we’ve developed a game roadmap. The sales person needs to figure out where on the road map the customer is and then he or she will be able to recommend a range of games that might suite their needs.
The road map starts with gateway games and the BGSA best seller list which appeal to a wide variety of gaming tastes but are also easy for someone who want to get into the hobby. Stage 2 covers expansions, light social games and market specific games like kids games. The final stage is for people who know what types of games they like, so games are grouped based on type or genre.
Something else that BGSA does is the Game Guide programme. This is a programme that incentivises enthusiastic gamers to promote and teach games at events and product launches.
The response to the program was great. At the recent launch of Star Realms at Toy Kingdom BGSA was able to have a Game Guide at every store Nation Wide!
Can you tell me a bit more about Unplug Yourself?
Unplug Yourself is an initiative by 3 of the largest table top game distributors in SA. We as businesses come together to work towards a common goal. Growth of the hobby. We aim to grow the number of people and the playtime; by combining our marketing spend to promote the past time and not a particular product.
RAGE 2014 was a huge success for us; we had the prime spot right in the very centre of the Dome. If RAGE continues to grow as it currently is, we hope that it might eventually become the next GENCON.
That sounds great, while we are looking at the future what are you looking forward to in 2015?
CATAN! The 5th edition of Settlers of Catan is launching this year. While there are no changes to the game itself the box art is changing along with the name. “Settlers” is being dropped from the name it will now officially be called Catan in all languages.
The other thing that BGSA is waiting for is Thunderbirds! Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the TV series, it’s a co-op board game where players take on the role of the Thunderbirds helping to avert international disasters and trying to foil the plans of the Hood. It is a co-op game by Matt Leacock, the man who brought us Pandemic!
I’m glad to announce that BGSA has just formed a distribution partnership with Modiphius Entertainment and will bring Thunderbirds, and their other games, to SA.
Last question, if I were to suddenly say that I have wood for sheep what would your reaction be?
(After the laughter died down)
Fabio: I would say 1 wood for 3 sheep.
Christa: I would wait for you 2 to finish then I’d play the monopoly card…
Thanks for your time guys. It was really good to chat with you guys. I hope you go from strength to strength and I’m looking forward to play all of the new games that you will be bringing in.